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Michigan State Football 2014 Position Preview: Defensive Tackles

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Injuries and graduation have allowed newcomers to emerge at defensive tackle.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

This is the ninth in a series of 2014 Michigan State Football previews, looking at the positions on the team in no particular order. Previously: special teams, tight ends, cornerbacksrunning backsdefensive endswide receiverssafetiesoffensive line.

With the graduation of Tyler Hoover, Micajah Reynolds, and Mark Scarpinato, the Spartans had a few spots to fill at defensive tackle this season. Damon Knox was set to be that starter, but an injury in camp put Knox out for an indefinite amount of time.

With Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush manning the ends of the defensive line, it's not essential that the defensive tackles be dynamic playmakers (but that would be really, really nice). All the tackles need to do is what they did last year - take on blockers, get a bit of penetration, and allow the ends and linebackers to MAKE PLAYS.

We're nearing the end of our 2014 Spartan Football position previews. Let's take a look at the defensive tackles.

The Starters

Joel Heath - R. Jr. - 6'6", 285 lbs.

Heath spent last season as a backup defensive end, recording three quarterback hurries. Heath weighed 265 lbs. last season, and to make the transition to defensive tackle, he had to do more than pack on the pounds:

"If you're not technically sound, you'll get taken out, point blank, that's how it is, it's strict, it's down to the bone, and it's real,'' Heath said, explaining how the Spartans' defensive linemen are coached to be technicians. "The main thing for me is using my hands, and the second component is short steps.

"Normally, at defensive end, you take those long steps to get out, but as a (defensive) guard you play closer and you have to take those choppier steps to have more power so you can have more balance.''

In conclusion, it takes more than four meals a day to play defensive tackle.

Lawrence Thomas - R. Jr. - 6'4", 309 lbs.

A former five star recruit, Thomas was hamstrung by injuries for a good portion of his Spartan career. He's put on weight and moved from linebacker to the defensive line, and he's earned rave reviews in camp this season:

"One guy up front really that I've noticed that totally has been as consistent as possible is Lawrence Thomas, L.T., he's really been good inside,'' Narduzzi said, rambling with enthusiasm on a FoxSports Detroit preseason special. "L.T. is really the guy that has surprised me with how consistent he has been.''

Narduzzi said much the same a week earlier on the BTN Live telecast from East Lansing.

"Lawrence Thomas is a bad man right now,'' Narduzzi said. "Something we haven't had there since maybe Jerel Worthy."

Yes, I will take someone who draws positive comparisons to Jerel Worthy on the line, thank you very much.

The Backups

James Kittredge - R. Sr. - 6'4", 298 lbs.

Kittredge transferred into MSU from Vanderbilt after his freshman year, and after sitting out a season, started five games in the 2012 season tallying 4.5 tackles for a loss. Last season Kittredge only appeared in two games as he recovered from hernia surgery.

The old man of the defensive tackle corps, Kittredge will be needed for his experience, as the other three backups at defensive tackle are all true freshmen.

Malik McDowell - Fr. - 6'6", 286 lbs.

Although it took much, much longer than many had hoped for McDowell to officially become a Spartan, McDowell eventually got the parental permission he needed. Although the original plan was for McDowell to play defensive end, he soon moved to defensive tackle. McDowell didn't mind the change:

"They asked me where I’d rather play and I said I’d do whatever for the team," McDowell said earlier in camp. "I don’t have a problem with it at all. I’ve just got to get a little stronger and I’ll be ready."

Dantonio has said that McDowell will see the field this season, so barring injury he will not be redshirting this season.

Enoch Smith Jr. - Fr. - 6'2", 276 lbs.

Another true freshman, Smith's name was brought up as another freshman who will probably see playing time this season. Smith knew that college football requires a greater level of conditioning, and he prepared all summer to get ready for it:

"I've been in communication with Kurtis Drummond, Shilique Calhoun and Demetrius Cooper to find out what type of conditioning I should do,'' Smith said. "Demetrius said they run a lot of gassers, he said 30 at the start.

"I asked how many they do on a regular basis, and he said 25 to 30, so I've been trying to get myself ready for that.''

Smith has been traveling with his father to EFT Sports Performance on a daily basis, working out from 10 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.

"It's a different workout every day,'' Smith said. "Lower body, upper body, then dynamics, which is a combination of upper and lower.''

Craig Evans - Fr. - 6'2", 320

Named as one of the top two recruits in the 2014 class out of the state of Wisconsin, Evans switched his commitment from Wisconsin to Michigan State a few days before signing day. He'll be yet another freshman who could see the field without having to take a redshirt year.

Currently Injured

Damon Knox - R. Jr. - 6'5", 280 lbs.

Knox entered camp as the starter at one of the defensive tackle positions, but an injury that require surgery after the first practice sidelined Knox for an indeterminate amount of time. Knox started in two games last season, recording 22 tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss.

The coaches have been raving about the freshmen in this group throughout camp. If they perform up to the coaches' expectations, stopping the Spartans' front four will be an extremely daunting task.